Isn’t that the eternal question? Who am I? What makes me ME? Is it my history? My ancestry? The sum of my actions? My thoughts? Fears? Aspirations? I think this is a fundamental human question, something people the world over ask themselves, regardless of their life circumstances.
For me, it’s less a question of who I am than of where I belong. Thanks be to God, I know where that is: right where I am. If there’s one thing this pandemic has made abundantly clear, it’s that I am one blessed woman. My husband and my children are MY LIFE. Last year, we packed up and moved across the country. I was scared, but I knew that as long as the six of us were doing this together, I’d be fine. I can adjust to a new location, make new friends. But the core of my life is here with me. Even more so, now that we’re staying-at-home-all-together-all-the-time. Is it easy? No. Do we get on each other’s nerves sometimes? Yes. But do I doubt that we will come through it together? Not at all. My husband, my children, and the Grace of God will carry me; we will carry each other.
I haven’t always felt this at home. I had a profound identity crisis after becoming a mother – who was I if I wasn’t the smart woman who walked into work every day and did “important” stuff? If I couldn’t engage in my regular hobbies with my husband anymore (um, no rock climbing or backpacking with a newborn baby)? If I wasn’t the perfect student and had to give up grad school? I wrestled. For years. I suffered from PPD – multiple times. I reached incredible low points that I don’t wish on anyone. But I found me, I found home.
Perhaps it’s because I endured that journey that I am so interested in others’ stories as they search for what makes them them. I’ve had a chance to read a lot of books over the past bunch of days (self-isolating from your family does that, dratted pandemic), and there’s been a common theme across many of them: search for self.
Jason “Timbuktu” Diakite, a biracial Swedish rapper born of American parents, recounts his search for his identity in his memoir, A Drop of Midnight. I picked it up for free as part of Amazon Prime’s “First Reads” in February. I’d never heard of him before, I don’t like rap music, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to experience a racial identity crisis. I’m a white girl from NJ. Very simple. So in many ways this was not a typical read for me, but I found it fascinating – which was certainly helped by the incredibly beautiful writing (hats off to the author and the translator!). It was moving, and while I can’t identify with his particular experiences, I can identify with Jason’s search for himself. I rooted for him as I read, praying he’d find that comfort in his own skin, that home he was clearly searching for. (I also learned a whole lot along the way, which is always nice.)
Ada Smith is a fictional 11-year-old girl with a club foot in WWII England. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War I Finally Won, a sequel to the Newberry Honor recipient The War That Saved My Life, takes us along on Ada’s journey as she finds her place in the world, a world that is constantly changing around her and full of heartache. She perseveres. She finds people who love her, she learns to love, and in doing so she finds home. It’s beautiful.
On a more lighthearted note, Shannon Hale’s Jane “Erstwhile” Hayes (Austenland) takes a vacation to nineteenth century England to figure out who she is. It’s easy to call it a romance and move on, but it’s really one woman’s effort to figure out and accept herself so that she is capable of loving and being loved in return.
Finally, I just finished Carolyn Astfalk’s Rightfully Ours, a young adult, Catholic love story. It is beautiful in so many ways. In it we see Paul struggle through the hard work of adolescence, with the added burden of great personal loss. He grows from rotely following along with his childhood faith to true personal conviction. He finds who he wants to be, the courage to try to live his ideals, and the family to support him in that effort. For many, many reasons, this is a book I hope my children will read when they are old enough.
So, there you have four very different books that all speak beautifully to the human question who am I? There’s a fifth, too, but it’s an ARC and I can’t share it yet — wait ’til May/June. Who knows? We might even be able to go out in public by then….
Thank you for reading along with my musings. I am grateful that, for now, I have that question answered. I have no doubt that I will face many more trials and life changes that will challenge this notion – but right now, it is such a pleasure to read these stories, and learn from them, but not to feel that yearning, that seeking.
I am home, and it is beautiful.